Stay the Course

IRVING, TX. - The temptation is there -- the temptation to take drastic measures, the temptation to stray away from the plan.

Of course, the temptation is understandable, the Dallas Cowboys welcome the Indianapolis Colts to Texas Stadium this week -- the same Colts who boast the National Football League's lone undefeated (9-0) record, who fill up the sports highlight shows with their array of offensive highlights, and who feature arguably the NFL's best wide receiver, in Marvin Harrison, and one of the best passers of all time in Peyton Manning. Adding additional stress to the equation is the fact that the Cowboys have lost Greg Ellis for the year to a blown Achilles' tendon.

Chances are the Cowboys won't get away with sneaking 15 or 20 players on the field when the Indianapolis offense takes the field. The likelihood that the officials will allow the Cowboys to blindfold the Indianapolis offense also is minimal.

So what does Dallas need to do to keep the Colts from running wild?

"We've got to go in with our gameplan and stick with it," linebacker Akin Ayodele said. "If we're in the game, and it's close, we have to stay with it, to believe in our schemes."

While Manning's exploits have garnered him everything from weekly media praise to countless commercials, Ayodele said the Cowboys can not -- and will not -- allow themselves to be intimidated or get caught star-gazing.

"It's an excitement more than anything, a challenge," Ayodele said of facing the Colts' explosive offense. "We're never intimidated. We have great players, too. We have great respect for them, but nobody is scared."

Defensive end Marcus Spears said that while Manning and Harrison -- and to a lesser degree wide receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark -- collect all the headlines, it is the the Indianapolis offensive line that is the most underrated and overlooked element of the Colts' attack.

"They're not really big," Spears said, "but they're quick -- real quick. They've played together a long time, so they're very familiar with where each guy is going to be. Especially their guards -- they're not that big -- but they compensate for that because they know each other so well. They're a really smart line, really crafty.

"As quick as Peyton can get rid of the ball, those guys don't have to block too long. They have to give him a chance to get the ball away, and they do that really well."

For years, Manning was joined in the Indianapolis backfield by running back Edgerrin James, one of the league's best runners and receivers out of the backfield. Often overlooked, however, was James' exceptional blocking ability. Ayodele said James' replacements, Dominic Rhodes and rookie Joseph Addai, are more than capable blockers.

"Rhodes is a little smaller, and I think he'll cut (block) a little more, and Addai is more likely to take you on up high," Ayodele said. "But Bradie (James) has been telling me about (Addai, James' college teammate at LSU), telling me he's a real strong blocker, real physical."

As if the Manning-to-Harrison connection wasn't enough to worry about, Ayodele said that as is the case against all offenses, defensive success against the high-powered Indianapolis attack starts with the ability to stop the run.

"It always starts there," Ayodele said. "The run is so much harder to defend. I've been in games where the other team is able to run at will on you. It almost makes you feel inadequate, it takes away your aggressive nature. If you can't feel like you can stop the run, it's hard to feel like you can stop the pass.

"Even against a team that throws like the Colts, you have to stop the run. If you can't, it really eats at your soul."

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